what we do
Ascend PAC is a 527 political action committee that identifies and provides meaningful financial support to emerging Democratic candidates running for local office. We view ourselves as an angel investment fund for Democratic politics, bringing together investors who believe in building the pipeline of future talent, and providing these investors with unparalleled insights on talented candidates to support.
The following 6 operating principles define our approach and have enabled us to carve out a unique niche in the progressive movement:
1. The Long View
We take the long view—both in how we think about our candidates, and in how we think about ourselves. For us, this work is less about 2018 and 2020 and more about 2030 and 2040.
2. Talent driven
We are laser-focused on identifying and supporting talent. We spend countless hours speaking with organizational leaders, community leaders, and others to identify individuals we believe have both the interest and capacity to go far in politics.
3. Direct Investment
We believe that directly invested funds are higher-leveraged dollars than independent expenditures, as they can be coordinated with the campaign’s broader efforts. We set up PACs in every state we’re engaged in and donate directly to campaigns.
4. Meaningful Support
We deliver significant, high-impact contributions. By providing at least 1% and generally upwards of 5-15% of a candidate’s budget -- which is often as little as $2,500-5,000 in the races we’re involved in -- we aim to have a real impact in helping our candidates win.
5. Building Community
Supporting Democrats running at the local level is not easy, and it’s not sexy; but it’s important. Our belief is that to ensure there’s continued investment in these races, we need to build a community of investors who believe in this vision and are willing to invest, cycle after cycle.
6. Relentless Focus
We believe to be successful, we must start with a focused mission and execute that mission effectively, growing from there. Everything we do is infused with this focus and discipline.
Endorsement Process and Criteria
Given our focus on talent, we spend quite a bit of time on our selection and endorsement process. Here's an overview of that process as well as the criteria we use in making our endorsements:
Our selection process: A rigorous approach to identifying talent
Identifying talent is a critical focus of Ancend's work, and we go through a painstaking process to find candidates we believe have the talent and capacity to go far in politics. We start with weeks of sourcing, where we speak with dozens of thought leaders on the ground in each state we're engaged in -- organizational leaders, activists, current and former elected officials, etc. These include formal advisors in each state, as well as many others. Our goal is to find individuals who have stood out in their communities; leaders who have shown a commitment to service and an ability to get things done.
We take all of those recommendations and invite a set of candidates to apply online, a fairly rigorous application that helps us to understand them both as candidates and as individuals. Based on their responses, we invite a limited number of candidates to interview -- along with their campaign managers -- and we supplement these interviews with calls to references we have asked them to provide. Based on all of that, we select a subset of those candidates to endorse.
Our criteria: Finding leaders of today and tomorrow
Through each stage of the process, we apply a consistent filter of five criteria to help us identify individuals we believe best represent what we're all about -- candidates who can be leaders today and in the future:
- Thoughtful Democrat and Self-Aware Leader: We seek individuals who have compelling life stories and a clear sense of what drives them as people, as Democrats, and as candidates. We don't have policy litmus tests and try to avoid debates about the direction of our the Party writ large, preferring to focus on what we think matters most: finding open-minded, thoughtful people and proud Democrats who we can see being effective leaders.
- Talent and Capacity to Drive Change: We believe past performance is a strong predictor of future success, and we look to find candidates with a track record of personal and professional achievement; individuals who have inspired others to action, are compelling communicators, and have demonstrated an ability to work with others to get things done.
- Interest in Leading a Life of Service: We seek individuals who have shown a steadfast commitment to service; who have a track record of being involved in their communities, a commitment to bringing others along, an interest in staying involved regardless of the outcome of the current race, and an openness to running for higher office.
- Opportunity for Ascend to have Impact in the Race: We like to be difference-makers in the races we're engaged in, and seek to support candidates in races where we can provide at least 1% of the estimated campaign budget. Whether challengers or incumbents, we seek to support individuals who are early in their political careers where our support can provide a meaningful boost to help them win their current race and put them on the map more broadly.
- Opportunity for the Race to have Broader Impact in the City or State:We look for opportunities where we can help alter the balance in legislatures, help bring new, diverse leaders to elected bodies that may not have had such representation before, and to make a statement with elections that have impact beyond the immediate contest.
Focus on diversity
In addition to the above criteria, we also pay close attention to the backgrounds of individuals we are supporting; indeed, it is a critical priority for us to support a diverse set of candidates who look like the communities they are seeking to represent. We believe our 2017 and 2018 endorsees thus far reflect that focus.
How we think about viability
Ascend has always been about the long game; indeed, we are driven by the belief that for far too long, our Party has focused on short-term gains at the expense of long-term success. And so while we certainly want to understand our chances of victory in each election, we are far more focused on picking the right candidates than picking the right districts; we are very much open to endorsing in races where the opportunity for victory in November looks dim, but the individual's long term prospects are clearly bright.
We have several criteria that have driven the selection of our states. We focus on states:
1) A sufficient candidate pool. We invest in states in which there is a critical mass of elections and hence a critical mass of candidates to choose from (in 2017, for example, many states did not have a significant number of elections).
2) A chance to pick up seats. We focus on states that are battlegrounds or emerging battlegrounds, so we are more likely to engage in races where we are supporting a Democrat against a Republican vs. against a fellow Democrat.
3) A focus on spending on candidates vs. compliance. We take seriously our responsibility to spend our investors' money wisely, and hence early on, we're focusing on states where the campaign finance laws are relatively less burdensome, such that we can spend more money supporting candidates and less money on legal and compliance costs.
These criteria have driven the selection of Texas, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and will continue to drive our decision-making moving forward.
Our 2017 Work
Launched in late spring 2017, we spent the 6 months leading up to November's elections building our infrastructure and establishing our model. Specifically:
- Building the infrastructure: We formally incorporated, launched our web site, and began establishing our approach to identification and selection of candidates. We recruited over nearly 70 core investors (Founding Members, Co-Chairs, and Chairs) who each committed to raise or donate between $2,500 and $10,000 over the next year, and raised nearly $75,000 to fund start-up and operating costs and support our first set of candidates.
- Establishing operations in Texas and Virginia: Per the above three criteria, we selected Texas and Virginia as our initial 2 states. We launched Advisory Boards in each state and selected, endorsed, and funded 12 candidates (8 of whom won).
Our 2018 Plan
After a successful 2017, we are working towards 2 goals in 2018: expanding our work today, and continuing to build out the foundation for tomorrow. Specifically, that means:
- Expanding our work in 2018: We are excited to expand our work in 2018, growing a 3rd state (Pennsylvania) and supporting ~20 candidates (up from 12 in 2017)
- Building the foundation for tomorrow: In addition, we're taking steps to support Ascend's longer-term growth. We are on track to double our raise from 2017, raising at least $150,000 to both support our work in 2018 and put ourselves in a position to hire our first full-time staff member in Q4 2018 or Q1 2019, selecting from the many individuals coming off campaigns in the fall of 2018. In addition, we are launching the Ascend Network, an association of like-minded organizations we work with to identify talent and provide information about relevant resources to our endorsees.